“From the perspective of transparency, the court is seen to be acting in an open way, which is something that Kenyans are not familiar with,” says Comfort Ero, director of the Nairobi office of the International Crisis Group, which issued a report ahead of the ICC decision. “Given how volatile the Kenyan political environment can be, and given the history of questionable judicial processes in the past, I think for Kenyans to see these alleged perpetrators of violence to face justice in a process that is free of interference is a powerful thing.”
Today’s decision was watched closely by Kenyans, and police prepared for a potential violent reaction in towns where violence had occurred.
Two of the accused, Mr. Ruto and Mr. Kenyatta, have declared their intentions to run for president in the 2013 elections, and the newly written Kenyan constitution is ambiguous on whether those facing criminal charges can run for public office. But at a time when Kenyans appear to have turned against their own politicians – many of whom lobbied hard against the new constitution during a referendum – and seem to put more trust in the International Criminal Court process than their own courts, today’s ICC decision presents Kenyan voters with a chance to change the political culture of their country.
“The constitution does not forbid a person from running for office who is faced with criminal charges,” says Ms. Ero.
But the constitution does say that a president who faces criminal charges is vulnerable to impeachment, and in that spirit, Ruto and Kenyatta could possibly be tossed out of office with a two-thirds vote of parliament.
“The question is more a political and moral one than it is a legal one,” she adds. “How will Kenyans react to this decision? How will they feel about a candidate, knowing that he faces such charges? Is this the sort of person they want to have in office?”